Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Ontario Budget: Andrea Horwath's Dilemma

Being the leader of an opposition party in Ontario just got a lot more difficult for one person yesterday. No, I'm not referring to young Tim (not ready for prime-time politics) Hudak, whose response to the Ontario's austerity budget was both swift and predictable:

“It fails to address the job crisis or runaway spending … and we can’t support it,” Hudak said, but he stopped well short of threatening to dethrone the minority Liberals.

The translation of young Tim's response? The cuts weren't deep enough, and taxes weren't lowered to create jobs, hardly a surprise given the Tory leader's simplistic world view and faith in magical thinking.

No, the real problem is for NDP leader Andrea Horwath who has deferred judgment on the budget in order to poll Ontario residents to see whether they believe Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s budget is so unpalatable that they would be prepared to see the minority government fall.

“We are going to be having a very serious discussion with Ontarians as to how far short it falls,” she said.

On the one hand, political realities being what they are, Horwath's party cannot afford to seem too cozy with the public sector unions who will bear the main brunt of this budget through wage freezes and pension reductions. On the other hand, of course, the NDP cannot afford to abandon its support of working people, no matter how reviled by other working people certain segments are.

For Horvath to opt to support the budget on the morsel tossed to her by McGuinty, the freezing of further reductions in the corporate tax rate until 2017-18, would seem too small to earn her approval. How can that freeze balance out what essentially is the abrogation of public sector bargaining rights for the next two years?

Will she approve the budget after consultations with the public, the outcome of which is predictable? (Ontarians have told us they are not happy with the budget, but do not want another election over it.) Will she stand on principle and defeat the budget?

But wait, there is a third, though hardly honourable option.

I may be dead wrong here (it wouldn't be the first time) but Horwath, after a suitable period has elapsed, could announce that she will not be supporting the budget but, taking a page out of the playbook of the federal Liberals, ensure that two members are not in the Legislature on the day of the vote, thereby ensuring its passage.

It is a maneuver I neither advocate nor favour. It was that same repeated practice by the Liberal Party in the House of Commons that convinced me that they really stand for nothing except the bald desire for a return to power.

While the outcome will be fascinating to watch, I do not envy Andrea Horwath the choices that await her.

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